Ultima IX: Ascension

aka: Ultima 9, Ultima: Ascension
Moby ID: 779
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Description official descriptions

For the last time, the Avatar is being summoned to free Britannia from Guardian's curse. The eight Shrines of Virtues, the pride of Britannia, have been all desecrated by this evil and mysterious creature. The glyphs which protected them have been taken, and put into huge columns the Guardian built in Britannia, with their entrances hidden deep in dangerous dungeons. As a result, the people of Britannia have lost their virtues. The Avatar must now cleanse the shrines and let the virtues return to the people. His task becomes particularly difficult because he cannot trust the people he encounters any more. With the help of a few allies, the Avatar will have to help the inhabitants of Britannia, and learn about the true origin of the Guardian.

Ultima IX: Ascension is the last single-player installment of the Ultima series, and the conclusion of its overarching story. The game still contains role-playing elements such as the series' traditional character creation based on ethically ambiguous questions, a quest-based structure (including side quests), a large world to explore, heavy inventory management, financial system, as well as weapon and armor customization. However, the game has no experience points system; the protagonist's basic attributes are increased only after completing certain storyline events.

Similarly to the previous installment, the combat in the game is action-oriented, and the protagonist has no companions that would help him in battles. The Avatar can use melee and ranged weapons (bows) or magic spells to dispose of his foes. The puzzle-oriented structure of the dungeons further emphasizes the game's tendency towards action-adventure gameplay not dissimilar to Zelda games.

The game features support for EAX sound and a fully 3D world with an almost unrestricted freedom of movement: in addition to climbing and jumping, which the Avatar has "learned" in the previous game, he can also swim and dive; some well-hidden locations can only be accessed in this way. The physical interactivity with the game world has been preserved; almost every object can be moved from place to place or taken into the Avatar's inventory.

Spellings

  • ウルティマIX: アセンション - Japanese spelling
  • 創世紀 IX - Traditional Chinese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

183 People (174 developers, 9 thanks) · View all

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 70% (based on 38 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.7 out of 5 (based on 104 ratings with 12 reviews)

Nail in the coffin - but what a nail!

The Good
I'm a big admirer of Ultima. I love the open-ended worlds, the meticulous interaction, the flexible role-playing. However, the hardcore elements of the series have declined over its course. Already the seventh game was less of an RPG than the sixth; and the eighth decisively shifted towards more streamlined action. Ultima IX is even less of an RPG: it is an action-adventure game with RPG elements - in fact, something not dissimilar in concept to Zelda games.

But to me personally, the Ultima experience never really depended on what you'd call core RPG traits: leveling up, combat, etc. When I want more dedicated role-playing (and that's what I always want) , I turn to something like Might and Magic. For me, Ultima was (and is), above all, about having my own adventures in a detailed, lovingly crafted world. When I play an Ultima game I want to do things just because I feel like doing them, playing with items and visiting every corner. In that respect, Ultima IX does not disappoint: it is a rich playground full of stuff to fool around with - only this time, realized in marvelous 3D.

Much has been said about the reduction of the game world; but did anyone seriously expect the developers to render in 3D the same amount of terrain as in Ultima VII? It's a wonder they managed to create what they have created using such an advanced engine. At the time of its release, no other 3D game came close to the sheer scope and magnitude of the world of Ultima IX. It was the most detailed, awe-inspiring fully polygonal world ever created for a game.

Ultima IX is the realization of a dream: this is probably how Britannia looked in the imagination of Ultima players, when they were playing the first Ultimas with CGA graphics back in the early eighties. Houses, forests, dungeons, mountains, rivers, seas - everything is absolutely gorgeous. There is an internal clock in the game, so you will see how the sun rises in the morning, or how the first stars appear on the sky, and so on. It is wonderful to see how everything moves and breathes in this world; butterflies fly around, skeletons wander near a dungeon entrance, waiting for their victims; people walk around in towns, the night comes upon Britannia; it rains, and the Avatar, equipped with his sword, is resting on the bed in Lord British's castle, gathering the force for his new quest. I really didn't want to leave this world. It was a pleasure just to run around, listening to the sweet orchestral music, and looking at everything around you.

Following the great Ultima tradition, Ultima IX is wonderfully interactive. Everything that is not nailed down can be examined, pushed, removed, and taken. You can interact with pretty much everything you see, exactly like in the previous Ultimas; the difference is that it feels absolutely awesome when it's all done in 3D. In addition to that, you also have physical abilities: jumping, climbing, and (for the first time in Ultima series) swimming. Every part of the game's world is therefore open now, and you can explore it physically. In every corner there is something to find and try, and at any point during your quest, no matter how linear its design is, you can just wander around and explore, admiring the lovely graphics and enjoying the amazingly high level of interaction.

You can jump whenever and wherever you want to. You can swim and dive everywhere there is water. You can climb on anything which can be climbed on. Most of the game is entirely physical; the dungeons are full of jumping or diving puzzles, but they are not nearly as frustrating as in some other games of this genre. Each time you are facing a puzzle you have to solve, like "how do I enter this dungeon if the entrance is sealed?", you can try many things, look for secret passages, underwater areas, try to cast spells, or anything else that comes to your mind. The new engine makes the game world physically immersive like no other game before it.

It is true that the gameplay is not as non-linear and open-ended as in earlier Ultimas; but it is still very much so for an action-adventure. There is plenty of ground to cover, and if you wish to see everything the game has to offer, expect to dedicate some time to it. The difference between its world and the much bigger playing area of, say, Daggerfall, is the fact everything in Ultima IX is hand-crafted. Every area in the game feels different, and you can feel how much love was put into details such as character animation, beautiful art decorating many rooms, atmosphere-enhancing objects in dungeons, and so on. Even in terms of quantity, the game trumps most of the competition. You'll be restricted at first, but once you get your ship, it's off to explore and have fun like before.

Combat is simple, yet dynamic and more rewarding thanks to the new engine: it doesn't have the intelligent elegance of earlier Ultimas, but I'd take it over the chaotic skirmishes of the seventh game and the frustrating clicking of the eighth any time of the day. The enemies look impressive and range from goblins and spiders to dragons and lyches, as well as cool creatures such as hellhounds and skeletons that fall apart and combine their bones again if you don't take some into your inventory.

There are lots of weapons in the game, also many secret ones, and most of them look cool and are worth looking for. In addition, you can cast spells using the complex system reminiscent of earlier Ultimas. You can memorize spells you find using the classic Ultima system of combining various ingredients scattered throughout the game. There will be surely many things you still haven't tried out after you have finished the game for the first time. In each town there are sub-quests to perform. Each location is full of unexplored areas, which you can search for some items, spells, or other things. Since the game offers you full contact with its world, there is always plenty of things to try.

The Bad
It is quite clear that the most glaring flaws of Ultima IX are, for the most part, a result of the unfortunate rushed release of the game. Given the proper time, its problems could - and should - have been ironed out.

Interaction with NPCs has been greatly reduced, sometimes to the level of rather pointless information-hunting reminiscent of much earlier installments. While there are still a few interesting dialogues and books in the game, most of the writing lacks the depth and the refinement of the conversations in previous Ultimas. The dialogues in Pagan weren't better, but there, the writers had the excuse of setting the game in a hostile world. Back in Britannia, it looks like most characters have lost any charisma they might have had before. The poor voice acting didn't help, either. The formulaic, thoroughly old-school storytelling harks back to trite fantasy cliches, neglecting the clever touches of the Age of Enlightenment Ultimas.

The realistic character behavior of Ultima VII is gone: characters often don't move at all and don't seem to depend on the game's internal clock. Britannia is also severely underpopulated; combined with the lack of AI routines, it almost looks like the Guardian has not only deprived the inhabitants of Britannia of their virtues, but also reduced them to the "signpost" status they have enjoyed in Ultima IV. It's not even the smaller size of the world that hurts the hearts of fans, but the coldness and indifference of the characters populating it. I'm sure that, with a little more time in development, those issues would have been addressed.

The initial release of the game was infamously buggy, to the point of refusing to run on many machines. Subsequent patches helped greatly: but even with the latest patches installed, sudden freezes, collision detection problems, awkward movement, and an occasional corrupted saved game are not too uncommon. Be sure to install the community patch as well as fan-made enhancements to the poor dialogue.

The Bottom Line
Ultima IX fails to reach the level of its predecessors in gameplay depth, losing many essential design elements in transition. And yet, it blows every other 3D game of its generation out of the water in terms of interactivity and physical immersion. That says a lot about the incredibly high standards Ultimas had us accustomed to; but it also speaks for a game that was ahead of its time, breaking its own legacy to pave the way for modern 3D game design.

Windows · by Unicorn Lynx (181794) · 2017

Ahead of it's time, for good and bad.

The Good
An ambitious, quantum leap in scope; free-form movement indoors and out to an extent not attempted before. Next-generation graphics including spacious outdoor scenes, highly interactive, beautifully rich textures. Rich story, as with all Ultima's.

The Bad
Buggy and unplayable on systems at the time due to impossible system requirements. This game was released under pressure, full of bugs including (from memory) frequent crashes. But that hardly mattered, as virtually nobody could play this game on release due to absurdly high system specs. I had a reasonably high-end PC and it was virtually impossible just to move around. A workmate had a very high-end PC and it was hardly any better.

The Bottom Line
Beautiful, free-form role-playing game light-years ahead of its time (in 1999), but it's own ambitiousness was its ultimate downfall.

Windows · by tino rossi (1) · 2006

Everything you've heard about its beautiful aesthetics is true

The Good
As a fantasy adventure game, Ultima IX is terrific. There is so much to explore and there are so many subplots to discover, you will never ever see it all. (The only remote chance you have to see it all is to play it through as each of the 8 possible starting characters, and maybe not even then.) The music is wonderful, the world is suitably large, and the quests are complex. Contrary to popular belief, you can make a lot of decisions about how you complete the game. The plot is pretty linear, but how you accomplish each task is up to you, and there are different ways to approach the problems.

Now, many of the complaints out there revolve around the differences between Ultima IX and the classic Ultimas I-VII. You have to let that go. In order to make the transition from top-down text to 3D third-person audio (or first-person, if you hit K), you have to give up things like an 8 member party, a name other than Avatar, and other things. This medium of game is more suited to visual exploration and spatial problem solving than stat-building, as in a "true" RPG. Myself, I love Ultima V. But you could never do Ultima V in 3D and keep it the same. There are tradeoffs for being visually and aurally immersed in Britannia.

And Britannia is glorious! Everything positive you've read elsewhere about the beautiful graphics, birds chirping and fluttering, atmospheric dungeon sounds, in-town music, etc. is absolutely true. It's very easy to believe that you've been somewhere else after you've played for a few hours.

Some people complain that the inventory system is cumbersome; they don't like to have to choose what to carry and what to leave behind. Hello! That's part of the game! One of the decisions (dare I say, roleplaying decisions) you have to make is what sorts of things you are going to carry or leave behind, and I love that. A warrior type might carry a lot of potions and bandages, while a mage might rely upon his spells for healing, thus freeing up inventory slots (at the expense of the many hitpoints a warrior might have). There are many points in the game where you will find yourself with a full inventory in the depths of a dungeon, and you come upon valuables or items vital to the quest. What to leave behind, what to take with you...

Some people complain about the spell system being cumbersome. I disagree. Casting a spell, once you bind it into your spell book (a nice ritualistic touch), is as simple as hitting the number of the spell level and selecting the spell. Or even better, keeping a shortcut to your spell in your tool belt, which you can activate by a function key. No problem.

The movement in Britannia is intuitive. Point where you want to go and go. Point and click to attack, with sword (or other melee weapon) or bow. Point and spacebar to jump. No worries. The hand-to-hand combat is pretty simple, but this is an adventure game, not an FPS where you need twitch reflexes. In other words, Ultima fans (or other top-down, turn-based RPG fans) who would like to experience Britannia, a fantasy RPG world, in beautiful 3D without becoming a Quake god to survive can do so with ease, and enjoy some good old adventure puzzles and dragon slaying.

In this game you: save the damsel(s), slay the dragons, thwart the pirates, return the church's stolen money, search for many a sunken or buried treasure (bet you never find them all), save a doomed race from extinction, journey to the planes of the four elements, inspire paladins out of retirement, find wondrous items and magical weapons, and pretty much save the world. If you are an Ultima fan, you will encounter old friends in surprising situations, have to make moral choices, hear familiar songs, visit familiar yet altered places, free the shrines once again, and experience the eight dungeons as you've never done before. Sound like fun?

The Bad
I have a few quibbles with the game, but bugginess isn't one of them. By now, any machine remotely worth its salt will be fine with Ultima IX, and the few crashes you do experience can happen with any game, save early and often as usual. Got better than a PIII 500? Got 256mb of RAM? Got a 3D card? You're fine.

I wish rats wouldn't give you gold when they die. That's just silly.

The taverns never seem crowded enough to justify the background sound of bustling conversation.

The directions other characters give you in this game are not very useful. Sometimes they are deliberately misleading you (not everybody is to be trusted), but often there is a lack of scale context, making some destinations hard to find. "In the mountains to the east of the city" doesn't say to me "East most of the way across the continent," but that's apparently what they meant.

I prefer the old-style keyword system of conversation. As reported elsewhere, the menu system of selecting a response can be cumbersome, and tiring when you are having a repeat conversation looking for missed information.

There is a dungeon whose design was so difficult, they ended up putting the exit in the middle, though you can go on and complete the rest of it if you want to. I wish there were some cool but nonessential incentive for completing it, like a great item or even just an easter egg.

The Bottom Line
Adventure gamers looking for a lengthy quest through a beautiful and believable world, or Ultima veterans willing to try a new format to visit old haunts and old friends in need of their Avatar would do well to experience Ultima IX. RPG purists who need to customize every aspect of their character should look elsewhere.

One last point: do you love maps? Play Ultima IX! There are maps of towns, maps for lost treasure, maps of Britannia... in full color on your screen! They work with a sextant to tell you where you are! Just one more immersive element to the game.

Windows · by Donn Thomson (4) · 2004

[ View all 12 player reviews ]

Discussion

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Trivia

Cover

In an interview with Richard Garriott in the mid-1990's, he stated that the original idea for the Ultima IX cover art was to show the standard Ultima logo in crystalline letters against a cloud/sky background. Another prototype cover, published as a poster in 1996, was done in a stained-glass window style and showed the Avatar rising (ascending) with the Guardian's huge red hand attempting to pull him back down.

Development

The creation of Ultima IX has a very entertaining history.

After the completion of Ultima VIII in 1994, Origin started work on the ninth episode -- the finale of the third trilogy. It was supposed to be a bitmap game like Ultima VIII; 3D graphic was no issue back then. However, another project was soon deemed more important: Ultima Online. Ultima IX was put on ice, the complete staff was sent to create the online game. When it was finished in 1997, work on Ultima IX continued; as the graphics were hopelessly out of date by now, a 3D engine had to be programmed.

In 1997, there was only one major manufacturer of 3D chipsets: 3Dfx with its Voodoo technology. So Ultima IX was streamlined to exactly that hardware. After all, the game’s release date was supposed to by not too far away, by the end of 1998. Not surprisingly, the creation process took much longer. One particular reason for this delay was a series of ugly staff changes during 1998.

With Dan Rubenfield and Marshall Andrews, two of the designers for Ultima IX left Origin in May 1998. The departure was not a peaceful one. The two ex-employees blamed Origin to sacrifice gameplay for the sake of a fast buck. Richard Garriott, the father of the Ultima series, reacted equally harsh: both renegades hadn’t got a clue about game design and would have been thrown out anyway. Rubenfield and Andrews went to Ion Storm to work on Deus Ex.

Only one month later, lead designer Bob White followed the two to Ion Storm, although this time there was no bad blood.

The big bang came in July: project leader Ed del Castillo had to resign. Castillo was considered a whiz kid after his work on Westwood’s Command & Conquer series, and had been enticed away by Origin only a year before. He was responsible for some controversial design decisions for Ultima IX, like giving up on the party. After some serious arguments with Richard Garriott, Castillo took his leave due to “philosophical differences”. He went on to found his own software company, Liquid Entertainment, in 1999.

With most of his design team gone, Garriott, who had been acting as a supervisor up to that time, decided to take charge once again. He became executive designer for Ultima IX in Fall 1998.

Development for the game continued. By 1999, the situation on the market for 3D accelerator boards had changed considerably. 3Dfx had lost its supremacy, the Nvidia Riva TNT chip was the new darling of the gamers. Ultima IX was not prepared for this situation. The game ran perfectly well on a Voodoo board under Glide, but was hardly playable under Direct3D. The problem needed fixing urgently. However, there was no time for that. When winter 1999 came closer, Origin decided that it was time to publish Ultima IX to take advantage of the Christmas business.

The game that reached the public was a technical catastrophe. Despite the enormous hardware requirements, it wouldn’t run fluently on any but the most advanced computers. Many owners of TNT-cards didn’t even manage to get the game working. A serious bug in the storyline made it impossible to finish the adventure without cheating. As the complaints poured down on Origin, the company published a series of patches to address the most urgent of problems.

Although these updates gradually eliminated most bugs, Origins reputation had suffered strongly by then.

Glitches

There is a design flaw in the game where, if you know where to try, you can climb / jump up the side of the mountains in the park at the beginning of the game (it's all trial and error). Once you crest the mountains and descend the other side, you are now outside the game world looking back in. It's a big floating island where you can walk underneath it. The ground is transparent from your point of view like a one-way mirror. Weird / creepy!

Joshua

If you perform a side-quest and save Joshua in Moonglow, a book will appear on a table in his house. Read this book. It is called: "Everything an Avatar needs to know about sex".

Message board

One controversial move by Origin that was the final slap in the face for many gamers was its decision to shut down its message boards. Quite simply at the height of the tech-support madness surrounding Ascension's bugs, Origin decided to shut down Ultima Ascension's official Bulletin Boards, leaving them as read-only versions for a while while they re-directed traffic towards fan-managed sites such as The Wayward Avatar and Ultima Horizons.

Patches

Because Electronic Arts pushed Origin to get the game out for Christmas, the game was notorious for its technical problems and bugs. After numerous complaints, EA responded by mailing a remastered cd with the latest patch plus a bonus copy of Ultima Online to the registered owners of the Ultima IX. Unregistered owners had to download the very large patch from their website. This has to be one of the few known cases where it actually paid to register the game!

Soundtrack

After all that Ultima sequels, it was to expect as the music level was progressing, that there can easily be soundtrack expected. It was released in 1999. Soundtrack can be bought at http://www.synsoniq.com.

Tracklist: 1. Stones (chamber) - Britain (positive) - Introduction - Valoria Ships - Paws - Gargoyles - Minoc (negative) - Moongate - Terfin - Undead (intense) - Moonglow (negative) - Good vs. Evil - Moonglow (positive) - New Magencia - Rats & Spiders - Samhayne - Walking Theme - Humanoids - Pyros - Ambush - Good End Game - Stones (electro) - Ambrosia - Yew (positive)

References

  • North-West of Britain there is a hidden mountain shrine to the late Phyllis Jones, mother of Scott Jones, the lead artist.
  • When playing the game, if you go to the jailhouse of Castle Britannia, you will see a character in prison . This character is Richard Garriot screaming "Release me, I am the real Lord British!"
  • A lot of the textures used for the paintings found in the game are really just recycled box covers from the previous Ultimas, including Richard Garriot's first game Akalabeth: World of Doom (often referenced as Ultima 0). The Tapestry of Ages however, is a completely original illustration done by the famed Hildebrandt brothers, fantasy artists known for their trading card and poster illustrations of several comic books heroes.

Awards

  • Computer Gaming World
    • March 2000 (Issue #188) – The Outpost Memorial Award
  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 03/2000 - Best Game World in 1999
    • Issue 03/2000 - Hardware Devourer Nr. 1 in 1999
  • PC Player (Germany)
    • Issue 01/2001 - Biggest Disappointment in 2000
  • PC Powerplay (Germany)
    • Issue 03/2005 - #9 Biggest Disappointment

Information also contributed by -Chris, cpc64, Dan Homerick, Henry Aloni, MAT, Unicorn Lynx, woods01, Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe and Zovni

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Related Sites +

  • Ascension Fan Site
    Ultima 9 fan site affiliated with RPG Planet
  • Hacki's Ultima Page
    A site listing various inconsistencies within the Ultima series. The majority of the content focuses on Ultima IX: Ascension. (English/German)
  • Hints for Ascension
    Get the solutions you need with this question and answer type file.
  • Review List
    Reading all of the many reviews on this game is easier with this extensive list
  • The wayward avatar
    Newssite on Ultima, Origin and related subjects The wayward avatar had the best walkthrough on Ultima IX available

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by JubalHarshaw.

Additional contributors: Trixter, Terok Nor, Unicorn Lynx, frank rieter, Jeanne, Paulus18950, Patrick Bregger, Rik Hideto, Robin Adams.

Game added January 23, 2000. Last modified February 13, 2024.